A Chinese man with Down’s syndrome was murdered in an attempt to circumvent a ban on traditional burials.
Cremation is enforced in some densely populated areas of China, but to get around the regulations one family paid a man to provide them with a body to swap with that of their deceased relative.
It later emerged that the body was that of a murder victim killed by the man they hired – an event the family insist they were unaware of.
The family, from Shanwei in Guangdong province, spent nearly £12,000 in 2017 to get a substitute for cremation. The man they hired was identified only by his surname Huang.
According to court documents, Huang spotted Lin Shaoren, 36, picking litter from the street and asked him into a car before giving him alcohol until he fell unconscious.
Huang put the man’s body into a coffin, nailed it shut and passed it onto the family a few days later. The family then had the coffin cremated, pretending it was their own deceased relative.
This left them free to secretly hold a traditional burial.
The crime was not uncovered until more than two years after the victim was reported missing.
Huang was subsequently handed a suspended death sentence when authorities tracked him down. The punishment will be commuted to life in prison if he does not reoffend after two years.
The family avoided a prison sentence, but were found guilty of “insulting a corpse”.
There are strong traditional beliefs in China, influenced by Buddhism, that burial is the only way to bring peace to the deceased and that the souls of the dead protect their descendants.
Feng shui burial theory, which encourages the burial of bodies in the countryside, is also popular.
A clampdown by the Chinese government on traditional burials and expensive funeral ceremonies has contributed to a rise in body swapping.
The practice is most common in rural areas where people often spend large sums on funerals and coffins as a way of showing respect to their ancestors.